Music Features
Jun 1, 2002, 05:27

© Darren Goldman

“The defiant attitude of teenage punk rockers and heavy metal head-bangers may seem like a rage spawned by the unique disorders of Western culture, but it is not. Adolescence awakens defiant urges in nearly all primates.”

-Howard Bloom, The Lucifer Principle

“Put yourself in our hand so our voices can be heard and together we'll take on all the world.”

-Rob Halford of Judas Priest

“I don't tell people what to believe in. I simply tell them to get out there, discover what you believe in and live those beliefs out to the fullest. Maximize your potential.”

-Tony Robbins

“I get wet without even trying.”

-Andrew WK 

Modern rock sprints backwards into the past. Hapless kids hoodwinked by A&R hippie suits slurp mashed rock through silly straws while soiling their Depends at Marilyn Manson and Kid Rock concerts—recycling '74 over and over. Britney's beats slither and grind harder than those fruit loops' cheap '70s rock star impersonations. She's a forward-looking gal—a totally fuck-able sequence of ones and zeroes wiggling about the pages of a Phil K. Dick novel. Poor, ailing hard rock desperately needs its own download-able deity—a muscular Jesus for the modern dance.

Times are tough for these big time nuclear weapon-producing record companies. Compact disc sales nose-dived in recent months. EMI paid Mariah $28,000,000 to disappear. Record executives are kicking over rocks in culture's seldom-traversed backwoods frantically looking for something (anything?) that could look good holding those framed platinum records in Billboard. As the norm they have offered mainstream America yet another batch of reprocessed classic rock. Detroit's White Stripes dabble in obsolete blues and Zep. The Strokes are fags sucking VU's Loaded. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are a veritable freedom rock revue, and Queens of the Stone Age tease but worship '70s rock too fervently. Torporific bores admirable with pure intentions and quasi-punk integrity. Will some freak please make the rawk a musical beacon for absurdity and societal scorn once again!

“For my record's cover I'm wearing a basketball jersey and I'm gushing blood. It's a really well done photo. It's really awesome,” boasted Andrew WK as his eyes grew into glowing moons rapping about his thunderous dance-metal debut I Get Wet. A disc downloaded with the sounds of Judas Priest, Giorgio Moroder, Twisted Sister, Cheap Trick, ESPN Jock Jams, and Bat Out of Hell, and neatly wrapped in the patriotic grandeur of Top Gun's closing minutes when Maverick tosses Goose's tags into the deep blue sea. And it even passes heavy music's two major litmus tests: bombast and repetition. Twelve totally identical pop-metal dance tracks shimmering with crisp two-stepping Flashdance melodies, soaring inspirational choruses and punchy synths while sledgehammer beats and riffs stomp up and down the spine.

Obviously, Andrew is not the first dude to fuse heavy metal and dance music. Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, White Zombie, and Sepultura have all attempted to create danceable metal, though rather unsuccessfully because they invariably abandon the formula that initially made them unique for cheap industrial additives. A record like Sepultura's Roots comes off rather soggy due to the layers of extraneous industrial grind smothering some truly punishing grooves.

“Every good band who gets obsessed with dance music turns bad like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire,” railed Andrew. “I don't see why they think that they're supposed to do it. They were already doing dance music.” In contrast, I Get Wet sounds more like a classic hard rock album than pseudo-futuristic NIN cheese because Andrew has fully internalized the production processes behind modern dance music without surrendering huge guitars and towering Marshall stacks. Andrew samples a drummer's beats—crystallizing a human's all-to-brief explosion of naked aggression—and perpetuates them for stretches of time few human drummers could endure—enabling him to pen Quiet Riot-worthy anthems that mechanically propel forward like hardcore techno. In this sense, I Get Wet breaks bones more like Sparks' gorgeous but sturdy and barbed dance pop on No. 1 in Heaven injected with a dash of testosterone squeezed from the nuts of Andrew's fave death metal outfits.

“My favorite all-time metal band is a tie between Napalm Death and Obituary,” professed Andrew as his eyes dug into the linoleum contemplating his idols' respective genius. “Napalm Death basically invented the whole extreme thing and Obituary has the greatest metal singer of all-time, John Tardy.” And he is even bent on reviving the standard thrash uniform. The back of I Get Wet resembles a picture some obsessed teenage head torn from the pages of Kerrang! 1987. Andrew, the Hessian behemoth, stands rigid and tall, arms defiantly folded like Thor: light blue-jeans caked in mud, battered high-tops, a greasy mane of jet-black hair, and a filthy white T-shirt.

“I started wearing more athletic clothing,” explained Andrew. “Because it's easier to run around in them. It's easier to jump off railings in athletic clothing.” An activity Andrew performs at least a dozen times a show. Perched atop his well-defined physique is a maniacal countenance glaring into the lens, resembling Glen Benton from the groundbreaking death metal outfit Deicide. “Spooky” Benton worships metal so intensely that he burned an upside-down cross into his forehead. “I think it's cool to do whatever you want,” Andrew repeats like a mantra.

Death metal + dance pop = the metallic Spears? Is this Andrew WK for fucking real? Andrew already conquered England in 2001. English football fans looking for the next soundtrack to butcher each other to blast Andrew's debut single “Party Hard” at the stadiums. The English version of I Get Wet even has a sticker censoring Andrew's warm, red liquid metal. And MTV has slipped his “Party Hard” video into rotation. Just maybe, America's gun-toting, bomb-building youth are primed for a demented hero all their own. 

“This is your time to pay. This is your judgment day. We made a sacrifice. And now we've come to take your life. We shoot without a gun. We'll take on anyone. It's really nothing new. It's just a thing we like to do. You better get ready to die. You better get ready to kill.”

—“Ready to Die”

“Everyone is so obsessed with keeping the dream of the MC5 alive,” said Andrew as he dismissed hard rock's ultimate legends. “The Stooges were cool in their time but I'm not into them. I'm not into retro. Too many bands play like The Stooges.”

No 16-year-old snot snorting finely chopped lines of Ridilin even knows who the fuck the Stooges and the MC5 are and does not care to know. Those aging stoners might have been get-down bad-asses in '72. But who (save college brats and pale-faced record geeks) care in 2002? Who even cares about hard rock anymore? Not the pukes shop-lifting Combos and the Juggs summer pictorial at the Dairy Mart on a Friday night. 

Our once-stoned parents' hard rock existed in a world of morality, political activism, James Dean rebellion, the antisocial outcast of Romantic literature. From Gene Vincent to Starship, from the Lizard King to the Clash, they all rocked for Rousseau's autonomous individual. In the book The Lucifer Principle, renegade evolutionist (as well as Michael Jackson's former manager) Howard Bloom tears apart these long-standing misconceptions and, in the process, describes modern youth's new reality. “The superorganism is often a vile and loathsome beast,” writes Bloom. “But like the body nourishing her constituent cells, the social beast grants us life. Without her, each of us would perish. That knowledge is woven into our biology. It is the reason that the rigidly individualistic Clint Eastwood does not exist. The internal self-destruct devices with which we come equipped at birth ensure that we will live as components of a larger organism, or we simply will not live at all.”

During the '70s our parents' world began rapidly dissolving. Personal power surrendered to systemic power. Corporations replaced governments and corralled individuals into masses of consuming social security numbers knocked about by the laws of supply and demand. A new world designed from complex mathematical equations emerged, which ironically operated more and more like a million protozoa viciously fucking and fighting in a drop of water. Andrew's dance-metal embodies this modern paradox. It is a brutally primitive attack constructed from intricate combinations of digital and human processes.

“We are a population. We are a factory. We don't do, but we never did anyway. We are your mother father. We are your final friend. And you can't stop what you can't end. I love New York City.”

—“I Love NYC”

Teenagers of the '80s and '90s craving mind-numbing noise ignored rock and cranked heavy metal, hardcore, thrash, speed metal, grindcore, death metal, black metal, hip hop, and hardcore techno. When kids did get stoned to a little hard rock they dug bands cutting their sound with metal's overdriven, mechanical rhythms like Guns 'n' Roses, Nirvana, and Soundgarden. Kids like Andrew dug the heavier shit because it pulsated and throbbed in time to the regimentation of micro-managed modern living. It reflected a world as army, factory, and corporation; it reflected the shit going down in their lives. “Judas Priest is one of my favorite true heavy metal bands,” proclaimed Andrew, as we discovered that between the two of us we own every single Priest record including the kick-ass later stuff like Painkiller.

Although rap-n-metal douche bags Limp Bizkit and their “nu metal” army (Alien Ant Farm, Linkin Park, etc.) bop about the stage in baggy clothing and guitars, the music's unoriginal appropriation of hip hop beats is not the alleged birth of a new hard rock. Instead of making heavy pop music, they commodify metal by cleansing it of menace. In fact, for the first time in rock history, older critics dismiss these sorry-ass metal bands for not grating their ears enough.

“Newer mainstream metal is pissed but in a boring way,” railed Andrew. “They're pissed but they have nothing to be pissed about. They're just not cool.”

Wasted youth flying high and crashing into walls like Christopher Bishop, sustaining their volatile existences on a steady diet of Red Bull-n-vodka, weed, X, gratuitous product consumption, monitor radiation, Xanex, Nokia radiation, fucking, acne medication, full media immersion, maxed-out credit cards, enhanced a thousand times by genetically encoded violence. Kids gleefully fucking your minds and partying with military discipline and duty. Andrew WK has yanked hard rock from its bell-bottomed coffin and raped it with metal fury for you. 

“We're not gonna die, and you can never kill us. We're not gonna die, and you can never hurt us. We dance! We kill! We go! We choke! We go! We stab! We rob! We steal! Party til you puke!”

—“Party til You Puke”

“I got tired of denying the energy of what I like to do because it doesn't sound like the right quality. I just like the way a really good recording sounds. So, I got out of the lo-fi bad music thing to make more mainstream music.

“The music is definitely important but I'm more into all encompassing things like the show. It's not just about breaking new ground. That's stupid. It's about having as much fun as possible,” explained Andrew in the days shortly before Dave Grohl flipped for his music, and Island Records signed him.

“I don't care if they [a major label] screw me over as long as they give me money so I can do what I want to do.”                           

We met on a frigid New England afternoon in Boston. The night before Andrew came up from New York and unleashed his one-man heavy metal karaoke show in some musty well-below-code warehouse in Providence, Rhode Island, then known as the Bulb Clubhouse. He shared that bill with Mikey Wild and the Magic Lanterns, a demented first-generation punk from Philadelphia who gobbles up the same anti-psycho pills as Jeffrey Dahmer. Barkley's Barnyard Critters also played that night—a group of tattered “farm animals” jamming one single blues riff until the sun climbs the rooftops and the rooster crows. Welcome to Andrew WK's incredibly strange beginnings in the bowels of underground freak rock.

Andrew WK—the handsome metal god—was born Andrew Wilkes-Krier in 1979 in Palo Alto, California. Four years later his family moved to Ann Arbor. “My parents just want me to be happy,” admitted Andrew, dispelling the crusty conception of head-bangers as maladjusted children. By the age of 15, Andrew had already trained as a classical pianist for 9 years, formed his first band at 13 (in the “Pearl Jam style”) as well as jammed in a small handful of other teenage projects, including his first death metal band. This precocious little rocker devoured entire genres in single bites. Then he discovered Ann Arbor's squealing noise-rock scene centered on the tiny but influential independent label Bulb Records.

“Everything changed when I got the Couch 7 inch on Bulb,” said Andrew. “That was the turning point. Before that I was already into stuff like John Zorn, Mr. Bungle, and the Boredoms, but Couch was a big deal and that changed things. Just seeing people were doing whatever they wanted was good.”

“I met Pete (Larson) and Jim Magas when I was 15 at Schoolkids Records in Ann Arbor. Jim used to work there. I thought they were cool because he was in Couch and they were my favorite band.”

Couch's searing distortion and visceral punch provided Andrew with the primal paste for adhering metal riffage to techno-based rhythms a few years later. “Their song ‘Old Man' epitomizes my whole approach to songwriting.” Andrew re-recorded a cacophonous dance version of his idols' song as tribute found on the “Party til You Puke” 12 inch released on Larson's Bulb Records back in 2000.          

Pete Larson, aka Mr. Velocity Hopkins, quickly became Andrew's friend, mentor, and band mate in the absurd rock combo the Pterodactyls—the only hard rock group in history allegedly fronted by a real live “pterodactyl man.” Rare footage circulates of this freak-of-nature swinging from a drop ceiling, outstretched orange wings scraping heads, while Hopkins' guitar and Andrew's drums bash out a much maligned take on the AC/DC songbook but with different song titles; it's unadulterated scum rock.

Unlike most independent label proprietors in America around '94 and '95, Hopkins detested politics and high-art pretense infesting his noise-rock. Even abstract soundscapes—real John Cage territory—should kick ass to high heaven like Van Halen's Fair Warning according to Bulb's aesthetic.

Hopkins, a hopeless Iron Maiden fanatic, interpreted the lyrics to Priest's “Living After Midnight” too literally. He pried them with a crowbar from the British Steel inner sleeve and constructed an entire heavy metal gestalt. Never mind the label's utter obscurity. Ignore the impenetrable white noise on many of the label's releases. Hopkins will forever maintain, implicitly, that the only difference between Creed and a bizarre Bulb release like an Ass Baboons of Venus CD is the number of copies sold. Bulb denies the cheap successes of subculture fame and remains a struggling entity of the mother kultur. For Hopkins, the popular definition of hard rock is still worth fighting for. More than any specific Bulb sound, Andrew tucked this keep-the-rock-going philosophy deep within his heart and quickly abandoned his fleeting interest in creating murky lo-fi experimental soundscapes- an example of which can be found on the obscure Labyrinths and Jokes compilation LP.

“What you like is just what you got to do,” said Andrew. “Basing stuff that's supposed to be really passionate on a concept is not going to be passionate. It's not going to be real.”

When Andrew turned 18 he left Ann Arbor—putting college on hold—and relocated to New York in order to translate his manic passion for classical composition, death metal, noise-punk, and Bulb's unrestrained hard rock spirit into a palatable commercial product now known as Andrew WK. (An unsubstantiated theory circulates that he moved to New York for fashion.) “I initially moved to New York because it's all about opportunity. You are paying for the chance for something to happen,” explained Andrew, who eventually relocated to Florida shortly after “911” to hang with his new band of Floridian Hessians with pony tails, including the former drummer from his teenage idols, Obituary.

From the narrow confines of his Brooklyn apartment-recording studio, Andrew would judge a jam's hard-rocking potential by twisting the volume to 11 and slamming about the room in solitude—a one-man Knebworth. He produced three releases for Bulb between '99 and '00: thugged-out rap-n-metal on the Wolf Eyes/Andrew WK split 12 inch, aerobic power pop on the Girls Own Juice CD EP, and his best so far, the Party til You Puke 12 inch, snarling techno sludge.

“I just honestly, at all times, make the best song I can make. I never think about it as someone putting on the CD, listening to it and thinking, ‘Oh this is great.' I think about it as though you've listened to it and you know it and then you see it live and it's like an atom bomb because everything is live. My dream is to play in front of a good size crowd who knows my songs.”

“How famous do you want to be?” I asked.

“My goal isn't to be famous. It's more like I want to play to 10,000 people. It's not so much the fame as the live show. Concerts are the most amazing thing.”

While living in New York, Andrew put together this one-man metal show. He would arrive at a space, blast his CD without vocals, and unleash a litany of preternatural wails and moans, joyously exorcising demons through heavy metal aerobics. It was aggressive, upbeat and wholly positive.

“I almost puked last night [at the Providence show]. It comes from that manic feeling when you are dancing around. I try to make the music as intense as possible.”

The show: Andrew queued the CD. The dingy room reeked of oil and antiquated chemicals suspended in a cloud of perspiration. Punks, ravers and clique-less freakoids packed the space. They cleared a small circle for Hessian Andrew to pace about. His frame immediately arched into a crescent moon, the microphone rose to his lips and disappeared; a wall of black hair swallowed the thing right to the cord.

“ARE YOU REA-DEEEEE?” leapt from inside that hair followed by a chirping toy Casio keyboard. The pounding of programmed aggression and organized hedonism commenced- “Puke,” the older techno version, followed by “Old Man” followed by “Puke” two, three, maybe four more times. That beat just kept pulverizing a crowd growing more and more agitated but also drawing closer together into a single shuttering superorganism. We pumped fists like soldiers with armbands, we crawled all over one another, and we tossed Andrew high into the rafters. He swung like a juiced-up gibbon from beam to beam and onto a wooden plank suspended over a blanket of bulging eyes and dropped jaws.

Stomping feet knocked the microphone about a floor dotted with Miller High Life puddles; Andrew ceased crooning two songs before. Back up on that plank, his body fired off a rapid sequence of chops, fists and kicks—motorized head banging. A splitting atomic pellet rocketed through Andrew's limbs, snapping arms and legs straight into the atmosphere. It was looking for an escape hatch; it needed an opportunity to expose itself and melt the entire fucking planet.

Andrew then dived to the concrete, snatched a pair of drumsticks, and hijacked Mikey Wild's drums. The dude began jamming along to his own jams! Rock fans rocking for rock fans dissolving the differences between rock show and dance party. “I don't love anything more than my songs and if the crowd loves them, too, then it's just the best energy.” Hopefully, Andrew's live shows, as a pop star on a traditional stage, create that same feeling of brief but palatable freedom.

“I want there to be a resurgence of the more personable things. The cool guy. You don't see the cool guy anymore. Someone you could hang out with,” explained Andrew in a tone of logic typically associated with truth tables and objective rationality—a metal mathematician.

Months later during the making of I Get Wet, Andrew and I bumped into each other at a show in yet another musty warehouse in Brooklyn where Velocity Hopkins and his wife, DJ Party Girl, were kicking out a set of dirty Mötörhead-drenched scum. “I heard you are making a rock masterpiece,” I drunkenly remarked with a crumpled bag full of Bud tall boys cradled like a baby in my arms.

Andrew, a darkly solemn demon-monk, cocked his head slowly. A single eye pierced that ever-swelling black mane. “I'm actually making two masterpieces.”

One song after another song, Andrew's voice rips through speaker cones screaming about partying, puking, killing, dying, and loving. You sit immobilized—incredulous (maybe repulsed) but oddly transfixed. “This kid is fucking ridiculous,” you (and I most days) mutter. “Does this dude want to fuck or fight? Is Andrew putting me on or is this fruity pebble really serious?”

“Open your mouth. We're all gonna cum. IN-YOUR—FACE! It's Time to Party. We're gonna have a party tonight”

—“It's Time to Party”

The answer is obvious. He is modern man's most prescient and vital philosopher.


Article originally appeared in Your Flesh #47 published June, 2002


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